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Article by Marshall Segal

Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Do you regret your dating history? 62% of Christians say yes.

Crossway recently surveyed seven thousand readers about singleness and dating. The data looks at our desires to be married, our levels of satisfaction in relationships, and the spiritual consequences of trends in our dating. The number that leapt off the page for me was 62.

Nearly two thirds of not-yet-married Christians express regret over previous relationships. That means the critical questions in dating are not just whom to date, how to date, and when to wed, but what to do when we get it wrong. And the reality is most of us get it wrong at some point along the way.

I started dating too young (11 years old). I dated too much (six serious relationships before I graduated from high school). I made too many promises and crossed too many boundaries. If I could take anything back or do anything over in my life, it would be in my dating history.

The regret we carry often feels like it weighs more than we do, but that’s because we’re not meant to carry it around with us, and certainly not our own. As I have wrestled with my own regret, two verses in particular have renewed and revolutionized how I process my failures and mistakes in the past.

When I Fall

I can remember exactly where I was sitting in August of 2008, wrestling with guilt and shame and regret over failed relationships and sexual sin, wondering if I would ever overcome my broken history, when a friend recited Micah 7:8–9 from memory:

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall look upon his vindication.

I had read the words before, but I had never really read them. It felt like I was hearing the gospel for the first time all over again. The prophet feels the weight of his sin: “I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him” — real regret, real guilt, real shame. The next words are some of the most stunning in all the Bible: “ . . . until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me.”

We sin against him; he pleads for us. He is the prosecuting attorney and our defense. And he’s never lost a case. If you are tempted to let regret eat away your hope, you have lost sight of who your God is. Micah writes a few verses later,

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18–19)

He does not linger over your past; he passes over your iniquities. He does not resent pardoning your sin. If you are his, he delights to have compassion on you. He does not keep a quiet log of your transgressions to hurl against you in court. No, he buries every forgiven sin, paid for in full with the blood of his Son, at the very bottom of the deepest sea. Never to be dug up by anyone ever again.

Two Kinds of Regret

Now, some regret belongs at the bottom of the ocean. Other regret needs to be nailed to the cross first. The apostle Paul, for instance, writes,

I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9–10)

Worldly regret — grief over the consequences of sin that does not grieve the sin itself — ebbs and flows with what our sin costs us in this life, rising higher on the shore of our minds some days and less on others. Eventually it will fall like a tidal wave when death brings us to God. But godly regret — grief over the way we have ignored, rejected, and offended God — produces a repentance that defeats death and enjoys eternity. Godly regret longs for God to look great — first in forgiveness, and then in grace-filled righteousness (Psalms 25:11).

Does your regret about your dating history lead you to God and away from sin? We will never attain perfection in this life, but forgiven children of God are men and women who increasingly hate their sin and prefer righteousness. Are you grieved by your past mainly because of what your sin cost you, or because of what it cost Christ?

What’s Next?

The Bible does not tiptoe around guilt and regret. Isaiah saw a vision of God that revealed the wickedness of the prophet’s own heart. He cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). Confronted with infinite perfection and power and justice, Isaiah is undone. Regret leaves him in a puddle on the ground.

But the God who calms the waves also raises puddles:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6–7)

Your guilt is taken away. Your sin is atoned for. If God himself has paid for our sins, and declared us guilt-free, we have no right to wallow in shame anymore. We waste so much time wishing we would have done it all differently — chosen differently, said differently, touched differently. God does not call us to redo yesterday, but to do something new today — because of his mercy, in his strength, and for his fame.

So what should you do? Isaiah “heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” (Isaiah 6:8). Is the prophet too ashamed of his sin to step forward? No. “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Once filled with regret, now filled with godly ambition. Not wallowing, but witnessing.

Isaiah’s life has been given new purpose, direction, and hope. His past is about God. His relationships are about God. His broken, sinful, regrettable history has become a canvas on which God himself has painted unique, undeniable, incomparable beauty. Instead of throwing it away in guilt and shame, Isaiah frames and displays his canvas for as many eyes and hearts as possible.

Let your regret become another reason to tell someone about what God has done for you. Walk others on the path out of devastating worldly regret into the healing power of godly regret.

Dating with a History

If the holy, sovereign God can love you and use you despite your dating history, then you can learn to love again. When he leads you into another relationship, you don’t have to pretend like your previous relationships never happened. In fact, to cover your past is to hide the grace and mercy God has shown you — to minimize what he has done in your life — and to risk falling into the same sin.

If you will ever be truly happy in marriage, you (and your spouse) will need to resonate deeply and joyfully with this confession:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)

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Pain: A Secret Garden of Pride | Desiring God

August 19, 2015

Pain: A Secret Garden of Pride

Pain can be a secret garden of pride.

We don’t talk about it often because it’s so sensitive, so vulnerable — so painful. As touchy as the topic of pain is, though, it’s equally dangerous to tiptoe around it. John Piper writes this about our pain,

Satan uses pleasure and pain to try and destroy our faith. He wields pleasure to make us doubt God’s satisfying greatness, and pain to make us doubt God’s sovereign goodness.

Pain can be a powerful weapon for good in the heart of faith. It can produce deeper, heartfelt humility and greater dependence on God. And pain can inflict wounds far worse and more lasting than any physical agony. At its worst, it can cause us to doubt God’s goodness, to wallow in self-pity, and to isolate ourselves from him, as well as from others.

Pain becomes proud because it believes no one else understands. No one feels what I feel. And so pain distances itself from anyone who might try and speak into its suffering. But pain afflicts itself even more the farther it separates itself from others. God has given us himself, his word, and each other to produce faith, and even joy, in the midst of pain, even the most severe and unique pain.

One test to determine whether our pain is producing pride is to ask how we respond to encouragement from others, maybe especially from other believers who don’t understand our pain. Are we willing to hear the word and hope of God from someone who has not experienced or cannot comprehend our current suffering? If we’re unwilling, then pain has driven us into isolation, and Satan’s succeeding in his purpose for your suffering.

Case Study: The Pain of Unwanted Singleness

I’m learning this lesson about myself from my own experience with suffering. From far too young, I longed for the affection, safety, and intimacy I anticipated with a wife.

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No Sore Losers on Sunday

Singing Despite the Court’s Decision

June 28, 2015

No Sore Losers on Sunday

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. (Psalm 30:11–12)

We head to church this weekend with heavy hearts. The cloud of the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision hangs over our corporate worship — and we don’t even yet know or feel all the consequences of the historic decision. The sense of sadness over a political decision is unlike many of us in the Christian community have experienced in our young lifetimes — the nationwide legalization of so-called same-sex marriage in the highest, most powerful court of our land.

Sadness and grief are unavoidable, even critical, to the Christian life (Romans 8:17, 35–37). But in Christ, they never need be the dominant or prevailing condition of our souls. The emotions may be overwhelming for a time — disappointment, depression, or disgust. However, for all who have been rescued from sin and promised an eternity of sinless safety and satisfaction, sadness will not ultimately win the day.

The Eyes of Faith in the Face of Defeat

David knew nights of intense terror and grief, and he knew the relentless, reliable, and irresistible power of our joy in God.

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. (Psalm 30:1–3)

David looked in every direction and saw defeat. His opponents were bigger, stronger, and more in number. His circumstances suggested all was lost. But God. God rushes to offer help to the helpless, to bring healing to the broken, to restore life to the dying, despairing, and defeated.

In fact, God never left. For those who are his, he is never far off. His help, his healing, his life, and his joy are ever-present, however dark our days may be.

Joy in the Mourning

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:4–5)

Where sin is tolerated and even legislated, we will see the wrath of God. God’s holiness and justice cannot coexist with proud (though pitiful) marches against his name and his will. The world will taste the consequences of its iniquity, and God will be vindicated — every decision judged, every sin punished.

But God’s wrath and judgment are not the only word for our sin-sick world. We all deserve his anger for millennia and more (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Left alone in our sin, we’d all weep every morning, noon, and night for the rest of our lives. But the God of infinite justice is also a God of immeasurable mercy. Therefore: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

For those with faith in God, no setback, no misery, no loss can be lasting. Christ conquers our greatest fears and pains, not always swiftly, but surely. The suffering and loss cannot outlast the life he purchased for us on the cross. For the Christian, joy comes with the morning, after the morning, and in the mourning. And so we sing (Psalm 30:4), even in the midst of severe sadness.

Real Pain, Real Opposition

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy. (Psalm 30:6–8)

As the American soil underneath our feet trembles, threatening to crack and crumble, we know where we stand.

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